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The Administrative Data Research Network is an ESRC-funded project that ran from October 2013 - July 2018. It is currently at the end of its funding cycle and is no longer taking applications. Administrative data research will be taken forward in a new project, to be launched later in 2018.

Criminal Careers and the Crime Drop in Scotland: 1989-2015

Research overview

Crime has been falling in many countries in Western Europe and the English-speaking world, including Scotland, since the early 1990s. As crime is committed by people, this ‘crime drop’ could mean that either fewer people are offending, or that people who do offend are offending less. However, we know little about how patterns of offending or conviction have changed over this period of falling crime. Research into ‘criminal careers’ – looking at different elements of the relationship between age and crime – has shown both age and sex to have strong relationships with offending. This analysis will explore how different aspects of 'criminal careers' have changed over the course of the crime drop; the relationship between the proportion of people convicted and the number of convictions received per person convicted; trends in convictions for groups of people with different convictions profiles; and how convictions patterns vary by disposals served. By looking at these results in the context of the different explanations that have been proposed for the crime drop, this analysis can help us to understand why crime has fallen in Scotland. It will also illustrate how patterns of criminal careers change in different periods and can be used to assess how broad changes in justice policy in Scotland have affected conviction rates.


Understanding the crime drop is one of the biggest challenges in contemporary criminology in Western Europe and the English-speaking world. At the same time, reducing reoffending is a key goal of the Scottish Government and the indicator of the two-year reconviction rate is a key measure of Scottish Government's aim to keep communities safe and help people move away from offending ( This analysis will contribute to both of these aims by exploring long-term patterns of conviction and reconviction, extending the insight provided by Scottish Government's two-year reconviction indicator, and linking these trends to the international literature explaining why crime rates have been falling. The proposed analysis will help Scottish Government in understanding the progression of convictions patterns in Scotland at both the individual and aggregate levels and the community of academic criminologists, providing benefit to both groups.

Data source

Scottish Offenders Index (Scottish Government)

Date approved

July 2017

Research team

Dr Ben Matthews (lead researcher)          University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences

Prof Susan McVie                                    University of Edinburgh, School of Law

Prof Chris Dibben                                    University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences 

Page last updated: 08/01/2018